Hello, everyone! This is the article you’ve all been waiting for. This is the article where I scramble to justify putting Mantis Rider in my standard decks and shamelessly encourage you all to follow suit. Today I’ll be bringing you the third part of my SCG Players’ Championship report. We’ll be discussing standard, my deck choice, and the end of the tournament as well as reflecting on the event as a whole. So, let’s go!
Ever since the release of Battle for Zendikar, I’ve been struggling with standard. I’ve had some very minor successes with Jeskai Black (won two state champs and a few IQs) but I’ve felt lost in the mirror match and with the progression of the deck overall. I had trouble closing games with the version without Mantis Rider and would lose games with multiple riders in hand where I just fell too far behind to get my spells out of my hand. In the mirror match, I would be losing games where I was too aggressive and losing games where I was too controlling. It felt like everything I was doing was wrong and I was dreading the standard portion of the Players’ Champs. I expected a ton of Abzan and Jeskai Black. I couldn’t get my Jeskai Black deck to a spot where I liked both of those match ups and didn’t sacrifice several other match ups in the process. I was ready to give up and play Eldrazi Ramp (funny in hindsight) or Atarka Red and my brother, Derek, jokingly offered his GWu Megamorph deck. He had been doing moderately well with the deck, beating up on most of his Jeskai Black opponents and doing generally well against Abzan. I laughed and declined the offer. While I did think Megamorph was a powerful strategy I didn’t want to abandon Jeskai for the most important tournament of the year. But, I thought, maybe I could have both. I could take the powerful proactive Jeskai cards I liked, Mantis Rider, Seeker of the Way, Jeskai Charm, Treasure Cruise, and Dispel and combine them with the powerful and hard to answer threats that make Megamorph a good deck. I always felt like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar was a great place to be against Jeskai Black. Especially after they decided to remove Mantis Rider from their decks. Wingmate Roc was a natural progression from and compliment to Gideon and I thought it would be a great place to take Jeskai. Thus, old school Jeskai was reborn.
Kevin Jones SCG Players Championship Standard Jeskai Aggro
So now that I had a deck, or at least an idea for a deck, I needed to iron out all the card choices in the two days I had before I submitted my list to SCG on Wednesday afternoon. The early deck list submission is super important because I actually ended up doing more testing after I submitted than I did before. I’ll explain my card choices in the following section even though some of them ended up being wrong in hindsight.
4 Mantis Rider, 4 Seeker of the Way, 4 Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy – These 4 ofs were all slam dunk auto includes and all proactive Jeskai Aggro decks should likely play 4 copies of these cards. Jace might seem like it isn’t as effective in this deck and at a base level that’s true. There’s less spells to flashback for an advantage and there’s less delve spells to fuel with the loot effect as well. Also, Jace has zero power and you often want your two drop to start attacking early on in this deck. Conversely, Jace is a lightning rod for removal. It might be such that your Jace dies immediately. This is okay in many situations because you have increased the chances that one of your other creatures lives or that your Gideon is harder to attack or burn out. I still like 4 Jaces but if the next set yields another playable two drop for this archetype I could see going down to 3 or even 2. Most of the time Jace will flash back a removal spell and soak up some damage and most of their turn which is great since you can make fantastic use of the tempo and value it has provided you. Seeker is the best two drop for an aggressive Jeskai deck, races well, and plays great with Treasure Cruise, Gideon, and Roast. Mantis Rider needs no explanation and is the backbone of all these aggressive Jeskai decks.
3 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, 2 Wingmate Roc, 2 Dispel – These 7 cards represent the package that I sought to incorporate into Jeskai to enable me to effectively combat Jeskai Black. I wanted to be threat heavy since my experience with Jeskai Black had resulted in a decent amount of flooding. As these decks moved into cruise/truths instead of dig they became much more likely to flood out. Consequentially, I wanted to present a bunch of tough to deal with threats.
2 Roast, 2 Valorous Stance – These are the best removal spells for trading up if you’re not playing black in your Jeskai deck. Roast can be narrow for different reasons than stance can. I wanted 4 ways to kill a Siege Rhino and wanted to hedge against Jace and Monastery Mentor while simultaneously having the option available to have some added threat protection. In a format defined by Crackling Doom and Abzan Charm you’re not going to be able to reliably protect your threats with stance. However, the instant speed aspect plus occasionally being able to trade an otherwise dead card for a removal spell from your opponents makes stance a totally warranted inclusion. Lastly, without Soulfire Grand Master in your deck, Valorous Stance is way better than Roast against Atarka Red and their Become Immense/Temur Battle Rage combo. I think the 2/2 split is a fine main deck configuration.
3 Fiery Impulse/1 Wild Slash – The aggressive slant to this version of Jeskai is more likely to need some reach to close the game out so the superior removal spell is shaved in favor of one copy that goes upstairs. Slash can also finish off their Gideon which is an effect you’re wanting for since cutting Crackling Doom.
3 Hangarback Walker – This is probably the best way to go wide while also making their removal less effective. I considered Hordeling Outburst but the lack of flying plus my deck’s inherent weakness to Soulfire Grand Master made me go with Hangarback.
2 Jeskai Charm – There should’ve been 3 copies of this card in my deck. It’s just very good at doing several different things the deck wants to do. It’s great for racing, turning a corner, closing a game, or even removing a crucial attacker when you’ve fallen behind. The only downside is charm is a little expensive. 3 mana is slightly too much to pay for any of the one effects on charm, especially when you’re on the back foot. The versatility makes it worth it though. Going forward I think both 2 and 3 copies are fine numbers.
2 Treasure Cruise – The mana base is white centric and doesn’t have the natural wealth of blue sources that other Jeskai decks have had in the past. Also, less cheap answers and more expensive threats makes cruise get the nod over dig for three reasons:
– You’re less likely to be in need of two specific answers and more likely to be in need of just “some action”.
– The lands you’ll naturally draw with cruise will help you deploy two spells in one turn in the midgame.
– You’re only playing one basic island and thus, your blue sources will be other colored sources as well. Cruise costing only one colored mana affords you the luxury of leaving up several different colors of untapped mana. Hopefully this will allow you to play as many combinations of cards you could’ve drawn into as possible.
1 Sarkhan, The Dragonspeaker – The last slot in the main deck became this Sarkhan last minute. Sarkhan is a great card and I believe that it’s generally well positioned more often than not. The plus one and the minus three abilities are both pretty bad against Crackling Doom though. This slot was originally the third Wingmate Roc and I never had a problem turning on raid so the third roc is the best card here, probably.
25 lands – The manabase is pretty self explanatory and the green lands enable the sideboard splash but actually make the mana better even if you weren’t playing green cards at all. The fourth copy of Wooded Foothills was pretty bad in the late game and could get cut for a random Shivan Reef or Battlefield Forge.
3 Disdainful Stroke – I was really worried that someone would play Esper Dragons and/or Eldrazi Ramp. Also, without Crackling Doom you’re weaker to Siege Rhino and Gideon so these would come in for the Abzan matchup as well.
2 Radiant Flames – Obviously a great sweeper for Atarka Red decks, Landfall decks, and even something like Bant Megamorph if it were to show up.
2 Outpost Siege – Expanding on the theme of hard to deal with permanents for the Jeskai Black matchup. Also great against Esper, Mardu, and warrants consideration in some slower builds of Abzan.
2 [card]Roast – Die, Abzan creatures!
2 Den Protector – As the number of Ojutai’s Commands in Jeskai Black slowly decreases this card, one of the strongest against the deck, becomes less of a liability. The additional body plus the inherent card advantage and the wide range of things you can get with Den Protector makes it a great addition in the grindy matchups. The green splash is completely free since the two green battle lands actually improve your manabase.
2 Arashin Cleric – One of the best sideboard options against the wide angle of attack, token based red decks. Blocks well and let’s you use your life total as a resource to better leverage your spot removal. The lifegain prevents you from needing to cast your removal on their terms. Also, you can induce an Atarka’s command on your turn just to prevent the lifegain. Most people won’t bite on this but presenting them with a way to be punished for using their commands too aggressively will add a new dynamic to the matchup which is generally a good thing for you, being the more interactive deck.
1 Dispel – Cheap way to protect your threats against Jeskai Black and Esper while also being great against red decks. The third Disdanful Stroke and the sideboard Dispel should’ve been two Negates. I grossly underestimated the power of Radiant Flames against my deck.
1 Dromoka’s Command – Well, at least I have one way to counter Radiant Flames. This is versatile against any damage based removal while also being a nice silver bullet if someone randomly tries to play Jeskai Ascendancy.
So that’s it for the deck primer. I’ll briefly recap the three rounds I played with my deck. The day two format was standard and all the matches were single elimination and for at least 1,000 dollars each. It was an honor to play in such an intense and exclusive event. Also a ton of fun. Hopefully I can get back to the event again next year.
Wild Card round (top 12) Vs. Jacob Wilson (Rg Landfall)
I thought Jacob would be on Jeskai Black and was ready for a tough fight. I also thought Abzan and Esper Dragons were in his range for this event. When I saw he was playing landfall I got a bit of a rush. This matchup should be pretty good for my Jeskai deck. My higher seeding put me on the play and that’s a huge boon for Jeskai in the matchup. I knew it would still be hard cause Jacob is obviously very good. While I think Rg Landfall is a smart metagame call as it can go big better than Atarka Red post board and thus has a better Jeskai Black matchup I still think playing a deck that better leverages skill would’ve been right for him. Regardless, I had a good draw and so did he. I almost held up mana instead of playing Mantis Rider on my third turn but I felt like it would be too easy for him to press his advantage without committing if I didn’t get on the board. I chose to chump with my Jace and loot to save the damage from the attacking Scythe Leopard. Jacob said afterwards that he could’ve put me to one if he had gone all in and attacked with den protector as well. He chose not to though and I untapped with impulse, stance, Dispel in hand. When he played Atarka’s command and Become Immense on his Den Protector that I blocked with Mantis Rider I was able to counter the command and kill his Den Protector while also killing the 4/4 Leopard with Valorous Stance. I was able to draw another impulse to kill his Swiftspear and clear his board. From there I won easily with Mantis Rider and the Sarkhan that I was eventually able to cast. Game two I was able to get a two for one out of my Radiant Flames and my attempt to use a second flames to kill his morph almost left me dead since he cast Become Immense and saved it and then flipped his Den Protector and put me to 7 and got back his Become Immense while adding a Snapping Gnarlid to the board. Now I was at 8 and dead to any land after I used a Roast on the Den Protector. I faded the draw step and he decided to use Temur Battle Rage to hit me for 4 with his Gnarlid, leaving me dead to any Atarka’s Command off the top. I got out a Hangarback Walker and killed his Gnarlid. I was able to fade Atarka’s Command again and raid a Wingmate Roc. The next attack gained me 3 life and I drew an Arashin Cleric, going up to 9. One more attack and the game was over. I got pretty lucky to fade any land in game 2 but I wasn’t sure if there were any other options that were better because making him cast Become Immense greatly decreases his options for the Den Protector’s regrowth ability. Also, it means I’m not getting combo killed next turn. Either way, I got through on the back of my efficient removal spells. (2-0)
Quarterfinals (top 8) Caleb Scherer-Abzan Aggro.
I liked this matchup but was growing anxious because I’d been sitting for a few hours between matches. I thought my threats matched up well against his removal and I would also be able to get a card out of my Dispels since he had cuts, charms, and commands. I’ll spare the play by play for this one and instead describe a few interesting turns. I was able to turn the corner in game 1 on turn 5 when I charmed his Anafenza to the top, impulsed his Siege Rhino to trade with my seeker, and got through for 4 with my other seeker. The turn ended with a 1 mana Treasure Cruise that I could’ve saved for prowess triggers but I chose to cast because I wanted to make sure I could cast everything I drew on the next turn. I was able to play a Gideon and Roast his Warden of the First Tree on the next turn, using all my mana. The next turn he had fetched incorrectly and couldn’t cast Abzan Charm and Dromoka’s Command. The charm got hit with a Dispel and he couldn’t recover. I lost a drawn out game two which saw me discard a cruise to Jace on turn 3 when I was hurt by my manabase. The game went long as I was able to cast all my removal and his timely Duress snagged my Gideon. Without the cruise to refill I succumbed to his double Den Protectors and a glut of mana flood. Game three wasn’t the intense back and forth climax everyone was hoping for. I played a Roast on his first creature, a warden. I did this cause my draw was double Mantis Rider and I wanted to increase the chances that the first one hit on an empty board. It did. Then the second rider helped race his Anafenza into Siege Rhino. I played a few blockers on turn 5 and after missing on the draw step he extended the hand. (2-1)
Semifinals – Todd Anderson – Jeskai Black
This was the matchup I was gunning for and I had a great draw of Hangarback Walker into double Mantis Rider with Dispel backup. And I got absolutely destroyed by Monastery Mentor into Duress and a couple more removal spells. Game two I was applying some pressure with some thopters and ripped a Gideon off the top on turn 4. He drew his one Ruinous Path however and a subsequent Radiant Flames killed my tokens. He then drew a bunch of cards, including a mentor and proceeded to make a bunch of tokens and kill my Jaces and then me. So that’s that. The run was over and I was pretty upset. 4,000 dollars is a lot of money to win but I was just thinking about the 4-16,000 I lost by losing that match. 30 seconds later I was over it. The tournament was a great experience and winning some important matches was the confidence boost I needed as I was falling into an apathetic approach to my magic career. This near miss has rekindled my fire and I’ve booked a few flights for the upcoming SCG events in January and February. I think my mental approach has improved as well. I’m getting better at losing and not getting stuck in my own head after losses. So I’m really looking forward to the upcoming grind and I hope to see some of you on the road! Thanks for reading and hanging throughout all three parts of this report!
Feel free to let me know if you think my logic was correct in the comments below! If you have any suggestions of idea’s of Oath of the Gatewatch brews (Order singles here), let me know those too!
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